It may have occurred to you by now that I have developed an acute interest in the language we use, which is to say I have become (as put so deprecatingly by Alan Bennett) one of those who “claim to have a love of lit-rich-cha, or speak of the lure of language, and their love of wuurds.” I thought that in today’s post I would present a critique of three of the most inspiring books that deal with various offshoots of the english language. I will tell you before I begin that all of these volumes are “★★★★★” and so these reviews are more of an order issued rather than an issue ordered - that is to say they are my most recommended of reads. Go away and do it (imperative!) - it’ll be worth your while/weight in gold (well... if taken literally that one’s a little more subjective as it depends how much gold you acquire the books/ebooks for set against your current body mass index or something like that...)
The Ode Less Travelled - Stephen Fry
No-one teaches poetry better than Mr Fry in this most accomplished, amusing and unabridged guide to the lost arts of rhyme, metre and form. I can guarantee you that anything you learnt at school concerning verse is a mere slither of knowledge compared to this fantastic wealth of information. It is as though when taking their PGCEs, all 21st English teachers were sworn to silence - forbidden to mention any other metre than the overused and well-advertised iambic pentameter (thanks Bill). How were we to know of trochees, spondees or pyrrhic feet? Well, Stephen has leapt to the rescue and sculpted this unrivalled companion with which to journey into the treacherous waters of Milton or Auden.
The Language Instinct - Steven Pinker
A biologist, cognitive scientist, and linguist, our author is one of the most innovative writers in the arena of language. His theories on how we first learn to communicate and the way the brain processes our conversation are enthralling. Even if, in 50 years time when humankind has discovered much more about the way in which our brains function, some of Dr Pinker’s arguments are refuted or his ideas belittled, this will stand as a pioneering linguistic enchiridion. Utterly engaging and concise it presents some of the most original concepts in its field.
The Etymologicon - Mark Forsyth
The author, fellow blogger and “inky fool”, has always had an obsession with etymology and this book offers a major ramble (in the best sense of the term) detailing the most interesting and astonishing origins of hundreds of words. His style and fluidity in the subject makes this a thrilling read that you just can’t absorb fast enough - you’ll want to endlessly revise each ‘chapter’ so as to remember the genesis of each and every term mentioned. Truly addictive and massively enriching.
This is where I post tunes I've transcribed and bits & pieces I find interesting. A few old articles have been transferred from my old blog, The Daily Orator.